Photo taken early 1930's of my mother, sisters and a few cousins

My mother passed away recently. Sorting through her old photos to create a display for the funeral was a task I found therapeutic. I shed a few tears but also smiled at many of the memories they brought back. And these types of photo montages play an important role in the sharing of stories and memories at funerals and celebrations of life. 

My mother kept every photo she ever took or received and, up until a few years ago, wrote on the back of most the dates, peoples' names and sometimes the location. Her collection dates back to the 1950's, 60's and 70's, and some as early as the 1920's. Sifting through printed photos, some loose but most in albums, made it easy to put together a display on a cardboard stand and put out 2 or 3 albums for people to look at.

This task got me thinking how cumbersome it would have found it if I had had to comb through  computers, CDs, sticks, and social media to find images for her funeral, and what it will be like for future generations creating such displays. Like me, most likely don't add many - or any - details to their digital photos of who, what, where, or when. 

And I would have had to print out the images I wanted to use. Call me old fashioned but I'm not fond of those slide shows on computers. I like to be able to skip or linger over a photo, point one or two out to others, not have to wait for an image to reappear. 

Experts say digital photos don't have nearly the same lasting power that printed photos do. The data and storage units for digital tend to break down much faster over time than paper products. Of course neither will last forever if we don't use archival materials and store them properly.  

Lots of people think their photos are safe if they are on an external hard drive or a stick or even on CDs or Instagram. But they do need to be backed up every 5 to 10 years to help prevent degradation. And having a printed copy too is best. They can always be scanned to create a new digital image. But in reality, how many of us back up or print out our files. And at the rate technology advances, we don't know what format photos will be in in 20 or 30 years, or if platforms such as Facebook and Instagram and will still exist.

My parents' wedding in 1962
We take far more photos today than we ever used to, but I rarely take the time to print out even the best. Most of my photos probably won't be of interest to the next generation, especially with little or no identifying information attached. Certainly I have thrown out a lot of my mother's photos, the ones of flowers, landscapes, and people I don't know. But there are still several albums' worth that I will keep.

Photos don't help everyone in times of grief, sometimes it can be just too painful. And in the days before photos were invented, we had only stories and memories and, if we were lucky, a painting of the deceased. Perhaps that is where we will return in future if the old digital photos are lost to us through degradation and old technology.

It's common for questions to come up about our history once someone has gone and photos can help us find links to our past. I am glad my mother had the foresight to answer the questions about who some of the family are in her photos and across her lifetime. She was an organizer, a trait I have inherited. 

As for me, going through albums and boxes of these old fashioned, printed 'selfies' was just what I needed. So perhaps I will find the time to take better care of my photos, printed and digital, for the future generations. 


"Don't think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It's self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can't try...